Revolution #176, September 13, 2009
Revolution received the following correspondence:
Taking Revolution to the Campuses
It’s been a week since we began taking Revolution to the campuses and we’ve begun to have a real impact, we have met a lot of people, learned a lot – and have a lot of lessons to draw in order to go forward.
All week we set up right across the street from the main building where freshman orientation was going on. We had a Revolution Books table with big red flags waving high up in the air and a vivid display of enlarged photos taken from the special issue of Revolution newspaper that featured "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." These photos confront hundreds of people a day with the vivid nightmare that the world is today for literally billions. They show an eight-year-old girl in Bangladesh slaving away in a battery factory... a Black man somewhere in America with his face pressed into the ground as two police officers kneel on his neck... an old man carrying the limp body of a young girl whose life has been stolen by U.S. war planes and occupation in Iraq... a man in Guatemala reduced to scavenging amidst others’ waste and garbage to scratch out any kind of existence...
And, they show images of revolutionary China – a whole epoch of tremendous liberation that people have been lied to about – as well as a whole display of the works of Bob Avakian who has done the work over the course of decades to develop the framework to go even further towards liberation than even the best of the revolutions in the past and is leading this process today.
All this is quite a challenge to the students who walk past. We live in a society and a culture that systematically covers over – and encourages people to avert their eyes from – the horrors caused by this system of capitalism-imperialism. Further, we live in an intellectual climate where not only outright reactionaries spread the BIG LIE that communist revolution has led only to disaster, but where this has been picked up and repeated even by many progressive and radical-minded people. And far too few people among all sections of society have heard of, let alone substantively engaged, the work and leadership of Bob Avakian who has rescued this history and built upon it to figure out how we can do even better and go even further.
At times when the flow of people is greater and we have more people volunteering at our table, one of us will climb up on a chair and hold one of the enlargements and agitate, calling on students to look at the pictures and come check out the revolution.
Among those who stop (it is hardly surprising that most students don’t stop, but a significant number do), it is striking how much openness as well as how much ignorance exists about revolution and communism. Most express anguish over the things that are portrayed in the pictures and many let us know that they, too, have tried to figure out why these things happen and what can be done about it. Some have more developed theories and some are just starting to think about these questions. But almost no one, even among those who have read some Marx or other "Marxist scholars," has yet seriously engaged genuine Marxism or has any sort of dialectical materialist understanding of why the world is the way it is and how it can be changed.
Most students who express their theories to us for why humans suffer so much focus in on the level of the individual. One argues that, during their early development, children begin to be indoctrinated with society’s norms and that because the individual child will never achieve those exact norms, this is the source of suffering. Another student, with a different theory, is similarly rooted in examining society through the atomized experience of individuals. He argues that when children are very young they have no sense of self but as they grow they come to realize that they are separate from others around them. He argues that it is when the child realizes that they are not the most significant thing in their mother’s life, that the father is more loved by the mother than they are, that constant frustration is generated by never being able to fill their mother’s needs themselves the way they initially grew up perceiving that they did.
With each of these students – and others like them – we have gotten into great debate and discussion.
One of these students gives the example: "How many movies have you seen, or cards or commercials, where the image of ‘love’ is depicted by two lovers running towards each other on a beach?" But then, he goes on to explain, that idea of love that everyone is raised on doesn’t really correspond to how people really experience love in their lives. And it is this gap between the ideal and the reality that causes people to feel anguish and suffer.
I tell him that not only do I think he is grappling with something important, but that I think it is extremely important that he is striving to get to the root of the problems, not just dealing with things on the surface. But then, I go on to explain that while it is true that there often is a gap between societal ideals and what people’s real lives are and that this can be a source of suffering, that there are much deeper and more defining contradictions than this. For instance, I pose to him, why are the societal norms (or "ideals" as he put it) what they are in the first place? Why, for instance, was it considered "ideal" for whole sections of white people to become slave-owners and plantation-owners at a certain point in this country’s history? And why did that "ideal" change? Further, even when that was the ideal, the real problem was not that there was a gap between that "ideal" and the reality of many white people’s lives – it was the system of slavery itself that gave rise to that ideal that was the problem.
The guy listened really intently and asked for clarification at several points. Then he made clear that he thought slavery was a true horror, but that perhaps I wasn’t seeing that, "People create systems like slavery, or launch wars, or do other destructive things because they are unhappy because they cannot achieve an ideal that is defined by society rather than just being defined in relationship to themselves only."
I wanted to make clearer that he was getting these two things inverted (that really the "ideals" of any society and the gap between those ideals and most people’s lives, flow from and are shaped by what kind of system there is, not the other way around). And the more he laid out his thinking, the more it got me thinking further, so I gave a different example. I told him that sometimes what is considered "ideal" changes, including sometimes people fight to change this and sometimes the projection of new ideals does not add to people’s suffering, but helps to uproot it. I gave him the example of the Model Operas that were developed and performed during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. In particular, I focused on how women were portrayed in those works – as strong revolutionary fighters and leaders. For a country that was coming out of hundreds of years of feudalism where women were viewed as less than human, these new ideals – together with the new revolutionary society that corresponded to those ideals – were part of enabling women to be free in ways before unimagined.
He paused for a moment as he considered what I was saying and he said he’d never heard anything positive about the revolution in China. So we talked for a while about what this revolution was and how it changed things for a billion people. And we got into how that revolution was reversed in 1976, to make clear that we are NOT upholding the kind of "sweatshop of the world with pockets of obscene wealth" that China is today. I told him that this experience was the most liberating humanity has seen yet and he has to find out the truth about this that has been kept from him. Then I told him about how Bob Avakian has deeply summed up the experience of this and other revolutions – both the tremendous achievements and the shortcomings, as well as broader spheres of human endeavor – and advanced the science of revolution.
My statement that revolution and communism are a science brought out a whole new host of questions and controversies with him. He brought out questions about early childhood development, about how it is that young people get the message about what it means to be human or to experience different emotions. He wondered whether we are really in a position to say that the girl in the battery factory in Bangladesh is really unhappy if that is all she has known and maybe we are just imposing our own "ideals" on her. I told him this was completely outrageous and told him that, while it is the case that you will put up with a lot of horrors if you don’t think anything else is possible, it is not the case that any humans find it to be fulfilling to have to send their children into dark and dangerous slave-like work conditions or watch them starve to death. I went further and talked about how many people we’d met over the summer out in the ghettos and barrios who had looked at the picture of a Black man being brutalized by the police and said, "That’s what they do to us." During all this I was rather sharp, not unfriendly, but I challenged him to really confront the implications of what he was saying.
From here, he disagreed when I said that the conditions the majority of humanity is locked in are truly oppressive, degrading and squandering of human potential and happiness. He said that may be my opinion, but there is no such thing as an objective way to evaluate the conditions of humanity. So, I responded by starting with a basic fact: there are approximately 6.3 billion people on this planet. He acknowledged this. Over 2 billion live on less than two dollars a day. He agreed. In 28 countries there have been food riots in the last year and a half. True, again, he agreed. Many of these countries actually were food-producing countries and had plenty of food but wouldn’t give that food to their people because it was for export in an imperialist-dominated global economy. Here, he seemed at first like he was starting to get uncomfortable. Then, he said, "Okay, I get what you are saying. Those things are mathematically true." So we continued, at each step I would take him deeper into what causes all this to be the case – and at each point I made him acknowledge that my statements were of the type that could be verified by examining reality.
This last discussion, about whether objective reality actually exists and, further, whether we can understand it scientifically has proven to be a big recurring theme among many students. One big way this has come up is that over and over again we have struggled with students that there is a relationship between understanding why the world is as it is and figuring out how it can be changed. That communism is not just "our thing" that we want to convince people of – or that they should wish us luck with. But, that there is only one way to liberate humanity – communist revolution – and this is a statement they cannot dismiss because it sounds "dictatorial" of us to insist that only we have the answer. Instead, they have to actually examine what we are saying and hold it up against the real world – not in a simplistic or superficial way, but in a scientific way.
We went back and forth on this for a while and you could tell that this guy was enjoying the exchange as much as I was, and that he was coming at it from a genuine place of concern for humanity and the planet. In the meantime, many new people had been passing through and now several stopped near the table. He gave a donation for the paper and his phone number and email and hung around listening for a little while longer as I began to talk with the others.
With the other student I mentioned above I asked him what he was basing his theories on. He replied, "Psychoanalysis." I asked him to break down for me where he got that from and at first he got very defensive, "Well, if you don’t agree with psychoanalysis then you obviously won’t agree with what I am saying." I told him I don’t think that is the right way to proceed. It’s better for me to actually hear what he has to say and try to understand it, and he should do the same thing with me, and we should measure all of it up against the real world and evaluate and learn in the process. This seemed a little surprising to him – probably on one level he didn’t expect this from a communist but on an even deeper level this is not how most people approach the world these days and perhaps this was new to him overall. After he walked me through more of his thinking about how people’s suffering comes from discovering that their fathers are more significant to their mothers than each child believes they are when they are young and forming their identity, he explained that this is why communism – even if you get rid of all classes and relations of oppression – will never work. He kept insisting that the problem (which he was claiming to have identified) is "deeper" than just class society.
So, I posed back to him how he thought this could be the most defining thing about humanity when it has so clearly been the case that there have been all kinds of different ways that human societies have been organized. His theories were drawn from a certain period of human history where there have been certain forms of family relations. We talked about societies where the family was very different than we know it, where there was not nearly such importance placed on the paternity of the child and the elevated status of mother-child bond. After this, he admitted that his theories only applied to people who are generally "in the West" and fit the family structure he is describing.
But, when I pointed out to him that this meant that his theory does not disprove the potential of communism to overcome all social antagonisms as he claimed it did, and especially went on to explain the deeper dynamics of society that determine even what shape the family will take and how it emerged, he objected in a very similar way that the previously described guy did. He immediately objected to the notion that I could make such "macro" statements about the world as a whole. It was fine, he explained, for him to restrict his theories to our society and ones that are similar, because those are the only ones we really can understand. And, because there is not necessarily a link between, or there are not necessary deeper dynamics that are universal to, our society and the many very different societies that have been.
I recount quite a bit of the exchange with these two different guys because there is a lot that was fairly typical. They were very concerned about humanity and what was portrayed in the pictures, but they really weren’t even thinking in terms of a system to explain why things are this way. Further, while they recognize that the horrors in the pictures are real, the more we talked the more it became clear that they really underestimate, or probably are just completely ignorant of, how truly desperate and degraded and bitter the lives of the vast majority of humanity really are. Another thing was how deeply interested they were in hearing from people who were serious about understanding and changing the world. They seemed to appreciate both our perspective of being on the side of the wretched of the earth, but also that we struggled with them over questions of philosophy and meaning, epistemology and science, the need for political resistance and mass ferment, as well as history and the potential for the future. One of these students was the furthest thing from politically radical, but he was deeply concerned about humanity and eager to engage with people, even us communists, over how things could be changed. The other student was someone who considers himself extremely politically radical and is active in building resistance to globalization and state repression, but was similarly stuck in theories that are not radical and at first was much more reluctant to engage with real communists like us. But, in many ways, they were extremely similar in their ideological and political framework and in their need to encounter and really engage with scientific Marxism to even understand the very questions they were up against and grappling with.
Where we have set up there is a very good mix of people who come through, many of them students but also a lot of people from all around the city. This is very advantageous and we’ve been trying to maximize the strengths of what different people bring to this. At one point while I was up on the chair agitating about the need for revolution and for people to learn the truth about communism and find out about Bob Avakian, a young Black man whose girlfriend works in the area came right up and said, "Man, me and my friends were just talking about this." I gave a brief overview of what the statement ("The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have") gets into for him, but I did this loud enough so that others walking past could hear, and a few more people stopped.
I ask the young guy if he’s ever heard of Bob Avakian and he shakes his head no. So, I get down off the chair and I say to everyone, but especially him, that if he is for real about revolution he has to come over to the television we have set up right now and check out this leader. He grabs a chair and we turn on the Revolution DVD to its very opening, "Postcards of the hangings."
For about half an hour this young man sits rapt by Avakian’s speech. Behind him two other Black youth, a young woman and a young man who are both getting their G.E.D.’s nearby, stop by to listen too. Soon, two female students draw closer and listen in. The crowd itself became something of a magnet to others, many who stop just for a moment and keep moving, a few who stay for a little while. Watching this video with people seeing it for the first time, I get a renewed appreciation for how damning Avakian’s exposure of this country is. He speaks with great passion against the horrors of the lynchings, and appropriate disgust for a culture that celebrated such barbarity. Then, his phrase, "This is the history of this country. This is just a small part of the history of this country." It hits very hard and I see heads nodding.
After this section, the young guy says that everything he had heard was true and it made him sad and it made him angry and he really liked the guy who was talking. I took a minute to make sure we got his phone number and email address and then told him about what all was covered in the rest of the DVD and that the whole thing is available on line now. But, before he left, I insisted – and he seemed very happy to oblige – that he sit and watch another section of the DVD where Avakian imagines what a liberated society will be like. As he continued watching and others stopped in, I went to the other end of our set-up and climbed back up on the chair. When I looked back there were about fifteen people gathered around our table in various knots – some watching the DVD, others taking in the photo spread and some engaged in discussion and debate with the revolutionaries staffing the table.
This proved to be the biggest scene we’ve been able to create thus far around the table. It continues to be the case that most students just keep on walking as if we weren’t even there, as if they cannot hear our words at all or see our pictures. It is clear that a lot of students don’t want to look at all this, but it has also been important for us to recognize that even while we need to challenge people sharply, this challenge should not be merely to "get down with the revolution" but to actually critically engage the revolution and not accept the "received wisdom" that this is the best of all possible worlds. There is an importance to challenging people to THINK about the world and their responsibility to it and to engage the answers and the leadership we have to get out of this. It is the first week of school and students, especially freshmen, are quite overwhelmed by everything new they are encountering all at once – and revolution and especially communism are not exactly familiar or favorably looked upon territory for most students. Over time, we have seen that some people who initially walked by are stopping and engaging.
The second day three young guys came up to the table at the end of the day and said, "We’ve been walking past you over and over, now we want to come and find out what you are doing here." The next day, as we were walking up to one of the dorms several blocks away, a group of students passed us. One of them blurted out, "Hey, are you the communists? Let me get one of your fliers." He wouldn’t stop and talk because his friends all kept going without him, but this indicates something about some beginning impact we are having beyond the students we’ve yet spoken to.
Another student who stopped by the first day announced that he was "more of a Chomsky guy" and he wasn’t sure that the entire system needed to go, he considered himself more moderate. When I got into how the world will not fundamentally change without revolution and began to get into how it can change radically with a new revolutionary state power leading to communism, he immediately asked, "Are you an authoritarian?" I paused for a second and explained that I didn’t think that was the right distinction. The RCP is a vanguard party and I absolutely am convinced that it is only with a revolutionary vanguard that the masses can make revolution and that after the revolution, to not establish a new state power and defend what has been won, would be a criminal betrayal of the people. Further, I explained, in that new revolutionary society there needs to be the institutionalized leading role of the communist party or else you are still going to just be handing power back over to the imperialists to do their worst with. I explained that the question is not whether or not there will be leadership or state power or authority, but what is the content and nature of that leadership and state power and authority and where will it lead. Ultimately our goal is communism – that is a world without social antagonism and classes, without states and without any institutionalized leadership – but to get there you need a state of a different kind.
He kept saying that this notion of having a new state really made him uncomfortable. That if you really want to get rid of states and leaders you can’t be fighting for a new state and promoting a leader. I challenged him that the question cannot be whether something makes him uncomfortable or not, but what is really needed to get humanity free and this is a question of science. It is also from this perspective, of really developing both the most thoroughgoing method of science and scientific communism and of applying it to developing the strategy for making revolution and the framework for advancing the revolution after it is made, that the leader we have, Bob Avakian, really is precious. Avakian has dealt with the biggest questions of communist revolution, including one that this guy is putting his finger on – between leadership and led.
We got into the fact that socialism is three things: a new economic system, a new kind of state, and a transition from capitalism to communism. That there is a big contradiction between leadership and led all along the way and the fact that you have a Party leading and a new state power can be turned into its opposite, into something that reverses the revolution and represses the masses of people. However, it doesn’t have to turn into that and Avakian has really fought to maintain the orientation, and to deepen the scientific foundation of the understanding that, without revolution and a new state power the world will continue as it is and get worse under the rule of capitalism-imperialism. And, from this perspective and with these aims, Avakian has gone further than anyone before him (including building on Mao but going beyond him as well) in figuring out how to continue the revolution after the seizure of power and dig up the real roots for capitalist restoration and break down the division between leadership and led and lead to the withering away of the state when that becomes possible.
With this guy, and with quite a few others who raised similar questions (a LOT of people raised these similar questions) I took things back to the time after the Civil War in this country. We discussed how after that war, there was a need for federal troops to be posted in the South if the newly freed slaves were going to not be immediately re-enslaved. These troops weren’t doing the kinds of things that slave-owners and racist white mobs were doing – they weren’t raping the women of those they were suppressing or selling the children out of the arms of their parents. They were merely preventing the overthrown slave-owners from re-enslaving Black people. And, as soon as the troops were pulled out and sent West (to help carry out criminal acts of genocide against the Native Americans and to put down strikes of railway workers), the former slave-owners and Confederate Army regrouped and instituted over a hundred years of neo-slavery and KKK terror.
The need for a new state power does not arise because communists are "statists" or power-hungry. Communists want state power because we recognize that without it humanity cannot begin to set out on the process of freeing itself – ending police brutality and the criminalization of Black youth as a whole, putting an end to the terror and destruction the U.S. inflicts on the globe, launching massive campaigns against the violence against and degradation of women, beginning to repair the environment, establishing a whole new revolutionary culture, teaching real science in public education, and so much more. I told him that no one has dealt more thoroughly, though, with the element of what he was raising that is really important than Bob Avakian. Later that day, I looked up the clip in the online version of Avakian’s Revolution talk where he gets into why attempts to do away with the institutionalized leading role of the communist vanguard under the dictatorship of the proletariat would only lead to disaster ("Overcoming the Scars of the Past"). I sent the guy an email with it, telling him I took our conversation very seriously and that, just as I had said, Avakian has spoken to this very deeply and he needs to check it out.
The next day, this same guy came back. I didn't notice him at first until he was deep in conversation with someone else at our table. All I heard was him say, "Yeah, I got an email from you guys already," and then I saw that they talked for quite some time.
There were others, though it doesn’t seem to be quite as many, who approached us more from the end of a burning desire to see resistance to the outrages going on. One young white guy stared for a while at the image of police brutality and then asked if I had heard of the guy who was shot face-down on the subway platform in Oakland by police on New Years. I said yes, and showed him the centerfold in Revolution newspaper that week with Oscar Grant’s picture along with others who were killed by police. He got really excited and wanted to hang this up as a poster in his dorm and expressed a lot of interest in organizing for the October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality. He said he tries to pay attention to what is wrong with the world and that he grew up in a place that was mostly filled with Fox News drones.
I asked him what he knew about communism and he replied, "Not much, but it’s gotta be better than this system." He and several others, once we started asking people to support the revolution even as they were just meeting us, gave several dollars for his newspaper instead of just one. Then, he ran off to get his best friend and bring him back by the table to talk to us as well.
One of my favorite exchanges happened when I was up on the chair agitating. A young guy came up to look at the pictures and ask why I was associating those pictures with the need for communism. Obvious, they were very bad, he agreed – but he didn’t see how that meant we needed communist revolution.
Before I could get more than a few words out, another guy came up and started cautioning this young man that he shouldn’t listen to me. The second guy says, "Let me ask you. If there is a big stack of plates that has problems in it, what makes you think we should throw them all up in the air with the expectation that when they come crashing down to the ground again things will turn out any better than they are now." I calmly responded, "If I thought that analogy had anything to do with what an actual communist revolution is, I would answer that question. But really, society is not organized like a stack of plates and, while a revolution does spring all of society into the air, a communist revolution does not merely let things come crashing back down however they may."
I pointed again to the photos, but again before I could really get a thought out, the new guy was saying, "Of course I think those things are horrible, but that does not prove that we need the kind of revolution you are talking about." So, we went back and forth for a while about how these photos weren’t just "bad things" or products of human nature. I argued that they are rooted in the system of capitalism-imperialism and that these things have been overcome and can be overcome even more thoroughly in the future through communist revolution that socializes the means of production, re-organizes the economy and international relations based on meeting people’s needs and overcoming the scars of capitalism. This new guy then launched into a whole tirade against communist leaders making promises that they will change everything and then turning into tyrants and I went back at him with how wrong it would be to make revolution and not lead society forward. I got into the real dynamics that led to both the profoundly liberating experience in China when it was revolutionary as well as the dynamics that led to the restoration of capitalism.
Every now and then, the first guy would ask me a question, but the newer guy would cut him off and begin again to caution him about all the dangers he was sure would arise from communist revolution. Next, this newer guy began to advocate the path of Martin Luther King and Gandhi. We had quite a fierce argument over these guys. I told him that this is spoken to quite thoroughly in the Revolution talk by Avakian and then explained that India’s formal independence from Britain, while a very just and important thing, really has not liberated the people of India. Further, this independence wasn’t won by Gandhi. First, the British empire was in decline all over the world at that time, this was a larger dynamic than just the movement led by Gandhi (we walked through various places like Iran and parts of the Middle East). Further, there were other, much more decisive struggles for national liberation raging in India at the time of its independence, including armed struggles in which many people very heroically fought and sacrificed. This guy, even while he was extremely bent on preventing anyone from taking me seriously, himself had to step back and consider what I was raising about India. Clearly, he had never considered what was the larger context in which Gandhi was operating and that other factors might have played a bigger role. He acknowledged quite a bit of what I was arguing and then shifted his argument to Martin Luther King in this country. So, I argued forcefully that MLK was not the decisive force in the struggle to overcome official Jim Crow in the South. Finally, I argued that in both the case of Gandhi and MLK, the rulers of this system are the ones who have elevated and mythologized the role that Gandhi and MLK played precisely in order to keep people who see injustice and want to fight against it locked within the framework of their system.
At this point, the first guy asked how much the paper was and I told him. As he pulled out his wallet the new guy turned to him with more conviction than anything he had said yet and started wagging his finger, asking, "Do you know where that money is going to go? Are you sure you really know what it is that you are supporting?" The new guy kept reaching into his wallet and explained, "I just spent all kinds of money on all kinds of books because it costs something for those books to be made and it is worth it to me to learn what is in them. How would this be any different? She is saying a lot of stuff I have never heard and it seems to me that one dollar is definitely a reasonable amount to pay to find out more. Besides, after listening to you and her argue and argue, I have to say that this is the best dollar I have spent since I have been in this country."
Turns out the guy was a student from Israel and after he bought the paper he stuck around for another twenty minutes or so, checking out the photos, listening in at times on other exchanges and coming back again to ask a couple more questions before he left.
Another thing that was interesting, not on the level of an overall pattern or trend yet, but worth taking note of were two young Chinese women who we encountered separately but who both were very open to, if not semi-favorable towards, Mao. One was a freshman who grew up here and described herself as an anarchist. She said that, growing up, both her parents and her grandparents would constantly quote Mao to her and that they loved Mao. She said she felt that any kind of leadership was a problem and overall thought that there had been too much chaos and disruption in the Cultural Revolution and that this had been caused by Mao. When I asked her what she thought the Cultural Revolution had been about, it was clear that she really didn’t understand that it was both about preventing capitalist restoration and about transforming world outlook and breaking down the divisions inherited from class society. We spoke for quite a bit about how the contradictions Mao confronted in the GPCR (Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution) were not of his own making, but that he was responding to contradictions that any revolution will have to respond to and that abolishing leadership will not avoid those contradictions. She had an especially bad impression of Jiang Qing (Mao’s wife who has been slandered probably more than anyone else involved in the Chinese Communist revolution) and I explained some of what she had done that was so pathbreaking in forging a new revolutionary culture.
For a young woman whose first comment was that she is an anarchist who doesn’t like the idea of parties and leaders, she was remarkably open to grappling with what the nature of revolution is and why we say leaders and parties and revolutionary states are necessary. As she got ready to go, I posed to her that the kind of exchange we had been having needs to break out much more broadly among students overall, as well as resistance to the crimes of this system. She agreed whole-heartedly and said she was open to signing some of us into the dorms so that we can get out fliers and talk to more students.
The other young Chinese woman we met when we were going to one of the dorms. She was outside with a group of Asian students and they were not speaking English. We gave them the short statement and asked them where they were from. At first they were reluctant to talk and continued speaking to each other, but one by one they opened up. One kid announced to us that he was from Shanghai and then everyone laughed. A young woman looked at us and said, "He’s not from Shanghai. I am."
We explained that we are revolutionary communists and that we uphold Mao Tsetung and are getting out this statement. We made clear that while there are pockets of glitter and obscene development in China today, overwhelmingly things have gotten tremendously worse for the people as a whole since capitalism was restored. Immediately she started gushing about how divided China is, even Shanghai. She said some places people live so wealthy but then there is like a line that you cross and all of a sudden it is worse than poor. That everyone is talking about how great things are there but really most people don’t realize what it is like for the majority, including young women who are bought and sold. She quickly agreed that there needs to be a new revolution there and we began talking about what we are doing with the whole campaign around, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." She didn’t stick around long (all her friends were breaking up and going other places) but she gave a way to be contacted and before the group completely left one of them suggested a place to go where we might find more people who are interested.
We have met a fair amount of "activist students" as well. These students varied a lot, but there tended to be among them a sense that they thought they already knew what we had to say. Or, that it is fine that we are doing "our thing" and they will just keep about doing "their thing." Some said, "Oh, yeah, I am involved already," and declined to even get the paper.
One group of three young men came up to ask if we would put fliers for an upcoming anti-globalization protest on our table. When we got to talking one of them says, "Okay, so why don’t you tell me what Bob Avakian’s new synthesis actually is. I am always hearing, ‘He’s got a new synthesis, he’s got a new synthesis,’ so what is it?" This was pretty interesting, both that he had heard about it a lot and that he didn’t really have any sense of what it is. Also, he seemed to only be partly asking, partly he seemed to be dismissing us as making claims with no substance. But, we took him seriously and framed our answer in the historic juncture described in the new Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party. That the first wave of socialist revolutions have come to an end and we are at the beginning of a new stage and Avakian has stayed rooted in and deepened the scientific understanding that communist revolution is needed, and that this requires both a vanguard party and the dictatorship of the proletariat to get to communism, and he has upheld and built upon the many tremendous achievements of the revolutions of the past, but he has also summed up the shortcomings and errors. That his new synthesis on revolution and communism includes ruptures in the political conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transition to communism that includes a greater role for dissent, ferment and a rupture from having an official ideology, ruptures in the realm of philosophy in terms of pragmatism, reification, and epistemology, and the development of a strategic approach to revolution in advanced imperialist countries in a world that has changed significantly since the time of Marx and even Mao.
With these students it was extremely difficult to get them to really engage, to stop and listen and not to just jump out and play "gotcha" every time I mentioned leadership or a new state. They posed that they didn’t want to lead or to follow and that people need to be able to unleash themselves. One of them posed that the state can only operate as long as everyone feeds into it and that if they pull out and others pull out and form alternative ways of organizing and being and defining themselves, it will lose its power to function without the need for a revolution or a new state. I picked up the photo of the 8-year-old Bangladeshi girl and asked how them "opting out" of the system affects her. Or how it affects the 80,000 cotton farmers who have killed themselves in the last decade after going so deeply into debt after structural adjustment programs forced on them from imperialist globalization. One of them acted very offended and acted like I was trying to win the argument by just appealing to emotionalism and sensationalizing this girl’s suffering. I argued back that I had made a substantive point, and went deeper at how the ability for people in this country to "unplug" has everything to do with being at the top of the imperialist food-chain and cannot be separated from the conditions of those like this girl and others in the sweatshops and fields and war-torn lands all over this planet. Further, even our ability to be engaging in ideas the way we are, debating theories and studying them, has to do with having had access to certain training and conditions of life that most of humanity is denied. Don’t we have a responsibility to include the rest of humanity in our discussions of theories and not erase them?
One student kept implying that I was just opportunizing off these people’s conditions to make my point, but another one of the students considered what I was saying. He argued that these people do matter, but went back to the revolution in China. He argued that, even if everything they did had been as good as I said, it really doesn’t apply to us in this country. That was a peasant country where women’s feet had been bound and life expectancy was 32 years before the revolution (points I had just made to him) and they carried out land reform and other measures, but this country is different and those lessons don’t apply.
I acknowledged that there are vast differences, but that there are also things that are universal, most particularly that one class or another will rule and it needs a state that enforces its form of economy and social relations. More particularly, that socialism is a transition to communism with a state that is different than any previous state in that its purpose is to enforce the ability of the proletariat, led by its vanguard, to abolish classes completely and along with that the need for such a state. Further, that until communism is achieved worldwide there is the basis for capitalist restoration and the roots of this, in the material base of society and the leftovers of capitalism along with imperialist encirclement external to the socialist countries, as well as the means for digging up these roots is something that Mao discovered and this applies universally. This is something that Bob Avakian has deeply studied and built upon, going even further than Mao including, in some ways, rupturing even with aspects of Mao.
This was all extremely difficult to get any of these students to engage and with three of them throwing questions out one on top of the other it was a bit of an unsystematic discussion. One of the students next threw out that he disagreed with the vanguard party so I asked him what he understands the point of a vanguard to be. He explained that it was to "provide a division of labor for making revolution" and went on to explain how this meant that some were leading and making decisions and some were carrying those decisions out. I told him he was completely wrong and really didn’t really know what he was talking about. I told him that a vanguard party exists because the scientific understanding of the basis for and methods for making revolution don’t arise spontaneously, they have to be studied and worked at and further, that those who most need revolution and most need to be the backbone of the revolutionary struggle are most frequently locked out of the ability to work with ideas and develop this scientific theory. So, those who do have their hands on this understanding at any given time need to be organized to continue to learn in the most systematic and scientific way collectively and to connect up this science and method as well as policies and political movements with the masses who need to and can be emancipators of humanity. This is not a contradiction we "willed into being" but one that we recognize and the vanguard party is a means of working our way through that.
He posed that if you have a vanguard leading a new society it can just turn into new oppressors. I posed back that if you don’t, you have the nightmare of capitalism and if you do, you have the danger of what he was describing but you also have the potential to resolve this contradiction in a forward-moving direction precisely because of the work of advanced revolutionary leaders like Marx, Lenin, Mao and now Avakian.
This discussion went for quite a while and began to involve others of us at the table. These students didn’t get won even to get the paper and frankly they were smug in a way that is really inappropriate for people who claim to be serious about wanting to change the world for the better. But still, as they were very politically engaged and came asking us to tell them what Bob Avakian’s new synthesis is, we felt it had been very important and worthwhile to go into things quite deeply with them. They began with an air about them that seemed rather dismissive and by the end they still were vehement in their disagreements, but there was some sense from them that they had encountered something of substance and not just the stereotypes of what communists are supposedly like.
Overall, among those who have studied some works of Marx (or, perhaps more often these days, who have studied the works of other scholars who claim to be Marxists), it is striking how much Marx’s works have been taken piece-meal and severed from the coherent science of Marxism that he founded. Whereas Marxism discovered the coherence of human history – with each generation inheriting the ways in which society organized itself to produce and reproduce the material requirements of life (food, clothing, shelter, the ability to rear the next generation, etc.) from the last generation and then transforming and passing them on to the next generation – many students see Marx’s work as only applicable in describing economic relations that more or less conform to forms of capitalism that were emerging in Marx’s time.
Whereas Marxism discovered that the there is a relationship and dynamism between the ways in which the economic modes of production are organized in any society and the culture and ideas and forms of governance and states that arise on that foundation, many students are convinced that Marxism has nothing to say (or nothing that isn’t crude and mechanical to say) about things like culture and ideas and art and love. Whereas Marxism established that the entire history of humanity has been the continual transformation of "human nature" – the overwhelming majority of students (those who have studied some Marx and those who haven’t) have had it drummed in to them that things are the way they are today because of some unchanging and unchangeable "human nature" that is narrowly self-interested, lazy and greedy.
Whereas Marxism discovered that the fundamental contradiction in the way human life is organized in the world today – the one that is most at the root of, and plays the most shaping role in relationship to all the other contradictions – is that between socialized production and private appropriation of what is produced, most students understand Marxism to merely be about getting better conditions and wages for those who labor. And, whereas Marxism discovered that the next revolution, the one that can resolve this fundamental contradiction in the interests of humanity, is the communist revolution leading to the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transition to the abolition of classes and the achievement of communism... and whereas the reality is that this dictatorship of the proletariat has been, and will be even more as Bob Avakian's new synthesis is taken up and applied in the world, an extraordinarily vibrant and lively society which not only meets people's most basic needs but also unleashes tremendous debate, dissent and intellectual, cultural and artistic ferment as people dig up the vestiges of capitalism and transform themselves in the process... most students have learned that communism is an idealistic utopian dream which cannot really be achieved and that the dictatorship of the proletariat is when the communist leaders try to impose their impossible ideals onto people with ever-increasing force and repression.
Overall, it has been necessary to ask people what they are talking about when they reference Marx or communism because it is really wrong to assume we are even talking about the same thing. And it is precisely by engaging what it is they think Marxism is that we are able to get them to recognize that they don't "already know" what we have to say, and to struggle for them to engage what Marxism actually is.
There were many other types of people that we met. Many international students are stopping, curious that there are communists and wondering how this is going in America. Many say, "We have communists where I am from," but are really referring to revisionist trends of various kinds. Quite a few young radical-minded people describe themselves as anarchist, or anarchist leaning even where they don’t seem to have studied anarchism deeply. Still, most of these young people are very open to hearing what we have to say about that and discussing it. One kid said to us about seven times that he is truly surprised that we have any hope at all in humanity.
A Pakistani guy came and we had a big struggle over what Bob Avakian has referred to as the "two outmodeds." (Bob Avakian has written, "What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these ‘outmodeds,’ you end up strengthening both.") This Pakistani guy hated what the U.S. had done to his region, including building up the Taliban in the first place, but now really supported the drone strikes and felt the U.S. had to take responsibility for ridding his people of what it had wrought. When I posed that the two outmodeds strengthen each other even while opposing each other he couldn’t help but agree. Still he insisted that the U.S. needed to get rid of the Taliban. I got into this quite a bit deeper, exposing how the U.S. is actually working through many of the clerics and Islamic fundamentalist forces, even elements of the Taliban, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. Then he backed up and said, "Well, I like the idea of revolution, but I am here on a U.S. scholarship. Basically, I know the hand that feeds me and got me out of that country where I could have been one of those kids caught up in this mess. So, I guess, I really can’t say anything about this country." He posed that maybe he could use his education to do some good for his country when he returned later.
At this point, I read him the paragraph on education in the Statement: "And, despite the good intentions of many teachers, the educational system is a bitter insult for many youth and a means of regimentation and indoctrination overall. While, particularly in some 'elite' schools, there is some encouragement for students to think in 'non-conformist' ways—so long as, in the end, this still conforms to the fundamental needs and interests of the system—on the whole, instead of really enabling people to learn about the world and to pursue the truth wherever it leads, with a spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity, education is crafted and twisted to serve the commandments of capital, to justify and perpetuate the oppressive relations in society and the world as a whole, and to reinforce the dominating position of the already powerful." He paused for a long time and said, "I’m really going to need to think about that." He bought the paper and promised he would read the whole thing and come back if he agreed. He didn’t give any contact information and was clearly weighing whether he wanted to have any recorded contact with the revolutionaries.
On Friday night, after a week on campus, we called a meeting for all the people we had met to learn more, pose their questions, and begin strategizing about how to break out the debate and ferment over revolution on this campus. Among those we met were several of the people we had had the most in-depth discussions with. Five were the friends of the Israeli guy who said that buying the paper had been the best dollar he’d spent. They all had strong sympathies with the Palestinian people and half of them were Palestinians who had grown up in Israel. They themselves had just met recently and all seemed to have different takes on that conflict (one woman said it that we’ll never sort out all the history, we just have to look forward, another argued that history matters and that Israel has no right to exist).
The biggest questions that emerged were whether it is right to promote an individual leader and whether you need a revolutionary state, whether communism has proven itself to be a disaster. We began by making some remarks, basically along the lines of what is in the statement, walking through it but also the juncture described in the Manifesto and how this statement and campaign is part of making a beginning of a new stage and beginning to lay out why Bob Avakian is so central to that. Then we went around and everyone introduced themselves, said why they were attracted to revolution and the biggest question they had about it. Two art students had questions about why we make such a big deal out of Avakian, mainly from the perspective that we shouldn’t. One Palestinian guy explained that he was "the son of an ex-communist" and posed that he wanted to know what we are making revolution against. Later, he elaborated, "We are told that communism has proven itself a failure, how do you answer that?" A young Palestinian woman posed that she couldn’t see how you can get people who are under occupation to make revolution, the occupation just weighs so very heavy on everyone that it seems almost impossible, plus – this theme developed more as the meeting got going – all kinds of people have listened to all kinds of leaders promise change and revolution over and over again and it hasn’t made any difference and things keep getting worse. Basically, "Why should we believe you?," even though she was very interested and even hopeful that we would have a good answer.
The Israeli guy who had invited this group posed that he felt really strongly that he has only ever received one side of the discussion, and even observed that in academia they only teach you one side ever, about communism. He felt he had to know more about it and that listening to me and others debate that guy at the table the other day had been truly fascinating so he felt he needed to come and he invited his friends.
In the discussion, the question of whether revolution is really possible in a country like this came up. One art student posed that there are no people who really know they are oppressed or really want revolution bad enough. A young revolutionary who was there from off-campus disputed this by talking about the conditions of many of the masses we’d been out among over the summer. He did some important exposure about this, but then came back to the fact that the art student was raising an important contradiction. We went for a while into the strategy for revolution – and tied in how Avakian was key in developing this and this was part of the answer to their other question about why we put so much emphasis on him.
There was a big discussion about whether the solution to people’s problems was subjective (something that one of the art students posed) or whether the problem and solution are linked and exist objectively in the real world and must be studied. And there was a continuous fight on our end to make clear and give people a sense of what type of revolution we are going for, to lift people’s sights to what is really achievable with the dictatorship of the proletariat. We tried to bring that to life for people in contrast to the world we are in and to take people’s questions on in that context.
Also, there is a need with everyone – both at the meetings and then overall at the table, this is worth noting – to struggle with people that they have to get on the inside of making this revolution and solving these problems, including real ones they put their fingers on. We ourselves cannot accept, and we have to get good at making this case compellingly to others, the approach people spontaneously take where they want all their questions answered first before they get involved or want to go further in the engagement. More, the terms need to be – if you don’t want the world as it is, you need to be digging into this and helping spread it and any problems you come to along the way (for instance, the huge middle class in this country and how that makes revolutionary situations less frequent) need to be ones you get into with us, learning what this Party has to say about them and applying yourself to helping solve them. Difficulties and challenges about this revolution – including questions of the potential for capitalist restoration after the revolution, or contradictions bound up with the need for leadership – are things you should be helping to solve and to engage with the solutions that have been pointed to by Bob Avakian’s new synthesis, they are definitely not reasons not to make revolution. Obviously, there is not an absolute here and people will want their questions answered and we should go as far as we can with that, but there is a basic challenge that we have to be putting to people early on and consistently that communist revolution is the way out and get into it yourself and take up the problems posed in this from the perspective of helping to solve them, not as excuses to leave the world as it is.
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